“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17
Shortly after Jesus preached the beatitudes to his disciples on the mountainside, he sternly warned them not to believe He came to abolish the Law or the prophets. First, he prefaces his statement by saying, “Do not think.” This presumption of warning indicates there may have already been false rumors circulating that Jesus was going to change the Law and the Prophets.
Why do you think this may be the case? I think it’s because Jesus spoke out against the establishment. He told the Pharisees they were a brood of vipers. He condemned religious leaders who didn’t take care of the widows and orphans—being hearers of the word but not doers. He spoke out against hypocrisy in the synagogues. For these reasons, people might have assumed that Jesus was anti-religious and would create a “new way” of following God.
However, this is not the case. Jesus went to the synagogue every Sabbath. He was a devout Jew. He loved the Torah and quoted Scripture often. Even in the beatitudes, he refers to Psalm 37:11 concerning how the meek or humble will inherit the earth. It’s very important to distinguish between the Law of God and the Prophets versus religious tradition. In fact, the reason Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees is because of His zeal for the Law and love for the proper way of interpreting Torah.
As I said before, the reason Jesus spoke so harshly against the religious establishment is because He loved the Law of God. He didn’t want the synagogue and religious acts of worshipping God to be replaced as a place for profit. That’s why he drove the moneychangers from the Temple. The House of God is to be honored and revered, not used for political, social, and especially religious gain.
Jesus further solidifies that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets when he made this critical statement next: “For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:18).”
Has heaven and earth passed away? I don’t think so. Does this mean that the Law is still relevant today? Absolutely. The Psalmist states, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul (Ps. 19).” The Law is what condemns us and leads us to the mercy seat of grace found in our Savior Jesus Christ. The Law will always serve a purpose contrary to what theologians might say today.
Does the Law save us? No. For by grace we are saved through faith in Jesus. Did the Law ever save? No, it always pointed us to a Redeemer who would impute or give righteousness to the people of God. For Jesus is the ultimate Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, could never erase sin. It was a foreshadow of when God’s Son would take on human flesh and die for the sins of the world.
Law and grace are not mutually exclusive. Law and gospel are not antagonistic. Rather, law, grace, faith, and the gospel are cohesive elements that lay the foundation for the Judeo-Christian worldview. Jesus told us that if we love God, we will obey His commands. Therefore, I demonstrate my love for the gospel and grace found in Jesus by my repentance and obedience—knowing full well my salvation is exclusively in the work of Christ.
In today’s church, there are two extremes. One says, “You are free in Christ.” You are not saved by the law or by doing good deeds. You can do whatever you want. If someone tries to tell you to follow the law, just tell them they are being a legalist.
The other extreme says, “You are not free in Christ.” You must do more than just believe in Jesus for salvation. You must follow the entire Law. You are required to do good works if you want to have a chance of going to heaven today. Yes, Jesus died for you, but you also need to do additional works to make your salvation in Jesus fully secure.
Both views completely miss the mark. Here is the solution: Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our righteousness does not come from within. Our good works don’t add any merit to our salvation. Our only hope is in Jesus, who lived a perfect life for us and took the penalty from the Father that we rightfully deserve as lawbreakers.
Moreover, the apostle Paul told us, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid.” In other words, Paul is saying that while the good news is our salvation is a free gift that is not earned, it also should not be used as a license to sin. Also, here’s the thing: While the gospel is free—it requires all of our devotion.
The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. If we aren’t pursuing that, then the apostle James might say to you: “Faith without works is useless.” He might also add: “What good is, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but not good deeds. Can that faith save him?” I think we all know the answer to this question. Blessings!
Article written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)
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Thank you for your kind response. May the Lord be glorified. Blessings to you!
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Amen! Truth which I do not hear most Christians stating. I enjoy your thought-provoking, Bible based posts.
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Thanks for the encouragement. I am glad this devotional helped strengthen your faith in the Lord. Blessings!
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That was a bit of a roller coaster, not gonna lie. Is he going the ways of a legalist that seems to be everywhere today? You had me on the edge of my seat.😂. Nice job!
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Thanks Tom! I think there are believers today who misconstrue the law of God with the oral tradition legalism brought on by the Pharisees. For instance, in Matthew 15, the Pharisees ask Jesus a question: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”
There is nothing in the Old Testament (Tanakh) that commands a person to wash their hands before they eat. This is legalism like having to wear a tie to serve as a deacon during the Lord’s Supper. It was an oral tradition that the Pharisees superimposed upon the people of God, thereby causing a burden of legalism hard to bear. Jesus, however, loved the Law of God. He said His yoke was easy and His burden was light. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, also specifically stated that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
Furthermore, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” I still believe we should keep the Sabbath, dietary regulations, and adhere to believer’s baptism instead of the sinner’s prayer. However, I am not legalistic about it. Our salvation is by grace through faith. We can worship the God any day of the week, including the Sabbath.
But I want to honor God to the best of my ability and I do not want to follow the tradition of the church by changing the Sabbath to Sunday just because the early church fathers thought it would be a good idea to be more syncretistic. I currently attend a Messianic Synagogue that meets on Saturday, but I also go to a non-denominational Christian church that meets on Sunday. I am ecumenical in that regard, but biblically conservative.
What are your thoughts about it all? Believe me, my views have changed over time. I was trained as a Reformed Calvinist in seminary and have spent the remainder of my time relearning some of my hermeneutical biases. Blessings!
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Hey Chad – beliefs changing are not a bad thing as long as it is God changing them.
So looking at what you are saying spelled out, I do honestly disagree with you to some extent.
Yes, Jesus took issue with the Pharisees for their man made applications of the rules and their hypocrisy, but that does not decide the issue of the Law. The entirety of the New Testament would be impossible if the Law was still in effect and we were meant to observe it. The picture of the Ethiopian Eunuch returning confused from the Temple with the scroll of Isaiah kind of sums up a lot. The Temple did not get him there despite all the efforts. Philip explaining the Gospel did.
We are gentiles not required to go through the Temple system to get to God. That is impossible under the Law. God tells Peter to take and eat in Acts referring to the unclean foods something a Jew was forbidden from doing. I know this is applied to Cornelius’ peeps showing up, but it is an argument from the lesser to the greater. The lesser – the dietary restrictions no longer applying because God has made them clean – has to be true for the point to then move to the greater about the Gentiles. So God either was making a temporary exception on the dietary laws – which would be extremely problematic as applied to the salvation of gentiles – or we are not under the Law.
It seems like the same idea with the Sabbath. I know people apply the Sabbath to Sunday but the Bible doesn’t change it. It remains Saturday and has not been changed. We would be required to observe it as the Jews did under the Law in addition to the feasts and sacrifices if the fulfill does not mean completion. But if that still applies then Paul’s directions about the Sabbath from Romans and Colossians – don’t argue about it and one day is valued over another – don’t make any sense. It would be a huge deal and should be argued about as it is all of the Law or none of it.
Tradition has the church meeting on Sundays based on the Acts church and Jesus’ Resurrection, but I agree with you the Acts church met every day. We can meet any day because the New Testament does not set out a day or a Sabbath observation. Is the Sabbath bad – certainly not – but does it add anything to your holiness? Anything that Jesus did not already give you?
As far as “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”
I know this is a common argument but if you expand it to apply it to aspects of the Law, then you have to take all of Law. Jesus Himself did not pick and choose between the Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil. I know this is common way to explain the moral aspects but Jesus either fulfilled it, as in all of it, and allows us to live in Him without the schoolmaster….or we are misapplying His words and we should be under all of the Law since He never made the distinction.
You may have gone through this all already and come to a different conclusion. That is cool and I appreciate Messianic congregations. I also see the problems that come when someone throws off the holiness of God with the excuse of freedom in Christ or ignores the Jewish history. There just doesn’t seem to be a way to me to reconcile portions of Law based faith and obedience and grace based faith and obedience without picking and choosing. It is all finished or it all applies.
I agree about traditions of the church as well and constantly question as well. I think we are supposed to – we follow Him not any man. I do personally find the appeals of the Law based rituals, requirements, and observances to be more subtly tempting than the you must wear a suit and tie or tithe a certain amount to be holy appeals.
God bless you as well!
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